[Pnews] Preventing Decolonization And Freedom for Oscar López Rivera

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Dec 12 14:38:59 EST 2014

Weekend Edition December 12-14, 2014


*Preventing Decolonization And Freedom for Oscar López Rivera*

  Puerto Rico's Subjugation


With the holiday season underway and Eric Holder on his way out the door 
as Attorney General, many Puerto Ricans are stepping up their calls for 
President Barack Obama to pardon 71-year-old political prisoner Oscar 
López Rivera, who has spent the last 33 years behind bars for seditious 
conspiracy. The holiday season is a common time for Presidents to use 
their power to grant clemency, but this does not appear likely in 2014 
for the President who has granted the fewest pardons in modern times. 
For Puerto Ricans, dismissal of their political demands is emblematic of 
their subjugation as colonial subjects.

Last week at a concert in San Juan, reggaeton singer René Pérez Joglar 
of the band Calle 13 brought López's daughter Clarissa on stage to read 
a letter pleading for her father's release.

After winning the silver medal in judo in the Central American and 
Caribbean games in November, Augusto Miranda told the press: "I want to 
use this forum for all the people of Puerto Rico and the United States. 
It's an abuse what they've done to Oscar López Rivera, political 
prisoner. It's time to give him his freedom."

The President of the Universidad de Puerto Rico (UPR), Uroyoán Ramón 
Emeterio Walker, joined with students at the university to call for 
Lopez's release, citing "humanitarian reasons" for what Emeterio called 
a "disproportionate" sentence.

Human rights activists such as Nobel Peace Laureates Archbishop Desmond 
Tutu, Máiread Corrigan Maguire and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel have called on 
Obama to release López. Anti-apartheid hero Tutu has said that López's 
"crime" was "conspiracy to free his peoples from the shackles of 
imperial justice."

Thousands take to social media every day using the hashtag 
#FreeOscarLopez to express their support for his cause.

The fact that President Obama's nominee for Attorney General, Loretta 
Lynch, is awaiting Senate confirmation could adversely impact a ruling 
on López's clemency petition, notedEl Nuevo Dia. The current Attorney 
General, Eric Holder, was Deputy Attorney General when President Clinton 
offered clemency to 16 Puerto Rican prisoners in 1999. López was one of 
those included in Clinton's conditional offer, which would have required 
him to serve 10 more years in prison. López rejected the offer because 
it was not extended to all of his fellow nationalist prisoners.

López was sentenced in 1981 to 55 years in prison. The main charge 
against him, seditious conspiracy, is the same one used to convict 
Nelson Mandela, who served 27 years in prison. López was convicted of 
other charges related to possession of firearms, which López described 
as "no more than a weapons collector would have at home," and stolen 
cars. [1]

The government accused López of being a leader in the Fuerzas Armadas de 
Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña (FALN), a militant nationalist 
organization that sought independence for the island through armed 
struggle. The group claimed responsibility for a series of bombings of 
government and economic targets in New York in Chicago during the 70s 
and early 80s. The Chicago Tribune described the FALN bombs as 
"fortunately so placed and timed as to damage property rather than 
persons" and said that nationalists "were out to call attention to their 
cause rather than to shed blood."

The judge said he would sentence López to the "electric chair" if he 
could, and the Lead Prosecutor said he "would like to see these Puerto 
Ricans die in jail." [2] López's political affiliations were clearly the 
motivating factor in his egregiously excessive sentence.

López himself was never accused of injuring and killing anyone. The 
government did not charge López in connection with a single bombing 
incident. In the U.S. justice system, you cannot punish someone for 
something they haven't been personally tried for in court. Attempts to 
justify López's sentence by blaming him for acts the FALN claimed 
responsibility for are nothing more than guilt by association.

Later, López would receive 15 more years for conspiracy to escape, the 
result of a plotdevised by FBI informants placed in his unit.

In his defense, López argued that according to international law he had 
the status of prisoner of war as an anticolonial fighter. As colonialism 
is a crime against humanity under international law, and international 
organizations had determined that Puerto Rico is a colony of the United 
States, López argued that he should be judged by an international body. [3]

In a 1987 resolution condemning international terrorism, the UN General 
Assembly purposefully excluded actions by people seeking the 
"inalienable right to self-determination and independence of all peoples 
under colonial and racist regimes." The resolution specified "the right 
of these peoples to struggle to this end." The measure passed by a 
margin of 153-2. Only Israel and the United States voted against it.

A History of Repression

While today roughly only 5% of Puerto Ricans on the island favor 
independence, this was not always the case. After the United States 
defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War in 1898, the U.S. assumed 
possession of Puerto Rico along with Spain's other colonies. The U.S. 
controlled Puerto Rico's government and gave enormously profitable sugar 
and coffee plantations to private American corporations. The U.S. 
government suppressed resistance to colonial occupation and refused all 
demands to relinquish control of the island.

In 1948, the Puerto Rican Senate passed Law 53. The "Gag Law" 
criminalized nationalist politics. It prohibited organizing, assembling, 
writing or speaking to promote independence. It even prohibited 
displaying the Puerto Rican flag.

Luis Muñoz Marin, the head of the Senate at the time, became Puerto 
Rico's governor the next year. His Partido Popular Democratico (PPD) 
passed a new Constitution in 1952 that granted Puerto Rico its 
Commonwealth status. However, this shed the territory's colonial status 
in name only.

Independence movements had determined to resort to armed struggle after 
facing decades of repression politically. They saw the Commonwealth as a 
euphemism for an illegitimate arrangement that perpetuated the colonial 
status quo.

Pedro Albizu Campos, leader of Puerto Rico's Nationalist Party, had been 
imprisoned along with other nationalists in 1936. He spent 10 years 
behind bars. After being released, he continued fighting for the 
liberation of Puerto Rico from colonialism.

In 1954, Lolita Lebrón led an attack with other nationalists on the 
House of Representatives. Shooting from the gallery of the chamber, they 
wounded five Congressmen. Lebrón spent 25 years in prison. She later 
said "times have changed ... I would not take up arms nowadays, but I 
acknowledge that the people have a right to use any means available to 
free themselves."

Puerto Rican nationalist groups were among the first targeted as part of 
J. Edgar Hoover's notorious FBI Cointelpro illegal spying campaign. 
Cointelpro became known to the public during the Church Committee 
hearings in the late 1970s, when it was revealed that the program had 
been used to illegally spy on civil rights leaders, anti-war protestors, 
American Indian movements, and other groups who challenged the political 
status quo.

While most Puerto Ricans do not support independence, most do support 
decolonization -- whether it is through integration into the United 
States as a state, or through a sovereign association with the United 
States similar to that of Marshall Islands.

In a historic November 2012 referendum, Puerto Rican voters decisively 
rejected the current colonial status with a 54% majority. Only voters on 
the island were allowed to participate in the referendum. If Puerto 
Ricans and their descendants in the diaspora -- where independence is 
more popular -- were included, the number likely would have been much 

Today support for López's release is shared by both the pro-status quo 
PPD and pro-statehood PNP. Puerto Rico's Governor Alejandro García 
Padilla and lone (non-voting) representative in Congress Pedro Pierluisi 
-- the former of the PPD and the latter of the PNP -- have both 
petitioned President Obama for López's freedom.

Latin American countries have expressed solidarity with Puerto Rico on 
both the causes of decolonization and freedom for López. In his visit to 
the White House, President of Uruguay José "Pepe" Mujica called for 
Obama to grant a pardon to López. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro 
has called for Puerto Rico to be able to join the Community of Latin 
American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and for freedom for López. "The 
Island of Puerto Rico is not alone in its struggle for dignity and 
independence," Maduro said.

The two causes also received international backing from the UN Special 
Committee on Decolonization, which approved a resolution this summer 
that called on the United States to "end subjugation" of Puerto Rico and 
to release López.

No Recourse to Political Participation

Although Puerto Ricans are American citizens, Puerto Ricans residing on 
the island cannot cast a vote in federal elections. Entitlement programs 
such as Social Security and Medicare do not apply equally to Puerto 
Ricans. U.S. businesses are guaranteed the same access to Puerto Rico as 
to any state under the Interstate Commerce Clause, subverting the 
island's self-sufficiency. Puerto Rico doesn't have the ability to make 
foreign policy, enter into trade agreements, impose tariffs, or provide 
universal public health insurance.

In the Insular Cases, the Supreme Court determined that Puerto Rico and 
other territories belong to, but are not part of, the United States. In 
comparing this to the "Separate but Equal" system established by the 
Court's Plessy vs. Ferguson decision, Judge Juan R. Torruella says that 
the Insular Cases created a "Separate and Unequal" system for Puerto 
Rico. The difference, Torruella notes, is that unlike Plessy, which has 
been overturned, the Insular Cases created "a regime of de facto 
political apartheid, which continues in full vigor."

Without any representation in Congress or a vote in Presidential 
elections, Puerto Ricans have their political rights subjugated to the 
U.S. government. Even on an issue as popular among Puerto Ricans as the 
release of Oscar López, they have no recourse to participate in the 
political process at the federal level.

There is no indication that Obama intends to even respond to López's 
clemency plea, much less grant it. In his speech at Nelson Mandela's 
funeral, Obama said that "around the world today, men and women are 
still imprisoned for their political beliefs." The overwhelming opinion 
among Puerto Ricans is that this description applies precisely to López.

The disregard that Obama has shown for recognizing the will of Puerto 
Ricans to free Oscar López demonstrates the uphill challenges Puerto 
Ricans face to shed their second-class status and obtain equal rights. 
If the President refuses even to grant a simple pardon, what chance do 
Puerto Ricans have of the U.S. government acting on the 2012 referendum 
and allowing them to achieve self-determination?

Predictably, the issue has been put on the back burner in Washington. 
The extent of federal action generated by the referendum is a $2.5 
million appropriation to hold another referendum, which would also be 
non-binding. Only the U.S. Congress can change Puerto Rico's status. And 
with Republicans in control of both chambers, it is more likely they 
will dedicate a national holiday to Karl Marx.

There is broad support in Puerto Rico for decolonization, and almost 
unanimous support for the liberation of Oscar López. But, as has been 
the case for the last 116 years, Puerto Ricans find themselves at the 
mercy of first-class citizens on the mainland who control their fate.

/*Matt Peppe *writes about politics, U.S. foreign policy and Latin 
America on his blog <http://mattpeppe.blogspot.com/>. You can follow him 
on twitter <https://twitter.com/PeppeMatt>./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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